Delta State hosts Teach for America

Published 1:33 am Sunday, June 27, 2010

It was last July when Teach For America announced that Delta State University would begin hosting summer training institutes beginning this month.

There seemed to be a luxury of time to prepare, but now the moment is upon us. Hundreds of people on the campus, in our community and across the Delta have worked hard for the past year, and we are fully ready to say, “Welcome, Teach For America!”

As we have reported previously, Delta State University and Cleveland are unique as an institute site. The other seven locations are universities in urban centers with populations in the millions — Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and Phoenix. We are the first rural site, and that is an extraordinary accomplishment for our institution and our community.

I want to share some information with two goals in mind. First, everyone should understand why this is so important. Second, with more than 800 Teach For America staff and new corps members in the area, a little knowledge will help all of us show them good ol’ Southern hospitality. Here are the basics:

What is Teach for America?

In the late 1980s, a senior student at Princeton University, Wendy Kopp, proposed that new college graduates could help with problems of educational inequity in the United States by delaying their careers and teaching for two years in those K-12 schools most challenged by social and economic issues. The idea became an organization, Teach For America, and it has grown dramatically.

This coming year more than 7,000 corps members will teach nearly 500,000 students in 39 regions across the United States, including the Mississippi Delta. The organization carefully monitors results to assure positive effects on student achievement. It is remarkable and encouraging to know that so many new university graduates are willing to make this commitment on behalf of our nation’s children.

What is a TFA summer institute?

Since Teach For America selects new corps members not only from teacher education programs but also from several other academic curricula, it is necessary to train and certify many as teachers. It is also important to introduce all new corps members to the TFA organization, its philosophy and methodologies. These goals are met at summer institutes.

Institute staff are arriving both this week and next at Delta State for two weeks of preparation. Then new corps members descended on the campus on June 13 for five weeks of training in a program scheduled daily from early morning to late night. Finally, there is a staff close-out week. That means eight weeks of activity on the campus.

What are the benefits?

Most importantly, students in the Delta’s K-12 schools will benefit during summer and regular academic year terms from accelerated growth in the number of Teach For America corps members teaching in our region. There are, of course, economic advantages to both the community and the campus gained by the presence of several hundred visitors in residence for a number of weeks. Also, this TFA decision unquestionably brings positive regional and national attention to Delta State University and to Cleveland.

Who is doing what to help?

More than 160 Clevelanders volunteered to help on registration day. What wonderful community spirit is exhibited when so many give time on a Sunday to greet visitors. We’re very grateful.

Both the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce and the City of Cleveland have been tremendously helpful throughout the year of preparations for Teach For America. Thanks to elected officials, staff, and volunteers. This is a full community effort.

Twelve school districts are working with Teach For America staff to provide teaching sites for corps members. The Delta Council and several state officials helped in the campaign to attract Teach For America to Cleveland.

On campus it has been “all hands on deck” for the past 12 months, addressing the huge number of details necessary for success. And I don’t want to overlook the tireless work done by the leadership of Teach For America.

This is going to be a rich and beneficial experience for everyone — Delta State, Cleveland, the Mississippi Delta, and, particularly, the Teach For America staff and new corps members. It is exciting that the time is finally here!

John Hilpert is the president of Delta State University.